Old rivalry resurfaces and will shape Final Four cast
In his former stomping grounds in the UAAP, Rhenz Abando kept an eye on an age-old rivalry.
He gets to experience it first hand on Friday.
“I’m excited and at the same time nervous,” the sleek transferee from University of Santo Tomas said as he prepares to lead his Letran Knights in a crucial duel against San Beda in the NCAA Season 97 men’s basketball tournament.
“This is my first time to experience what I just used to watch back then,” he added.
The stakes are heavier for the Red Lions in this recharged rivalry. Win or lose, the Knights (8-0) are assured of twice-to-beat protection in the Final Four. They could enter the semifinals as the No. 1 or No. 2 seeds. The Lions (7-1) could clinch the No. 1 spot and a playoff bonus with a win, but a loss drops them to third, where they will have to go through a play-in.
Waiting in the wings are the Mapua Cardinals (7-2), whose stunning upset of the Red Lions cracked an opening for them to leap to second place.
“[The players] are excited about it. They’ve been looking forward to it—long bracing for it,” said San Beda mentor Boyet Fernandez of the match between last year’s Finals protagonists. “But again, we’ll see what happens.”
“It’s a different lineup already. Different composition [for both teams], but the rivalry stays.”
Abando certainly upgrades Letran’s composition and the fact that he’s in the running to win both the Most Valuable Player (MVP) and Rookie of the Year trophies shows just how big a role he plays for the defending champions.
“This is special for me because this is a chance for me to measure myself, especially with fans watching,” said Abando, referring to the NCAA staging the Friday playdate at Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan, which will open its doors to fans.
But for Letran coach Bonnie Tan, it will be old hand Fran Yu—the Finals MVP of Letran’s title conquest—that the Knights will hinge their fortunes on.
“All eyes on him. He’s our leader so I’m sure that in big games like this one on Friday, he’ll step up,” Tan said.
“We’ll try to come up with a sound game plan. Hopefully, the players could execute, because again, it’s them who will be playing,” he added. “It’s more going to be about execution of game plans. I think that will be key going against San Beda.”
Friday’s doubleheader kicks off at 12 noon with Perpetual Help and Emilio Aguinaldo College battling for a play-in spot, before Letran and San Beda take the court at 3 p.m.
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